The Stockport Prevention Alliance has been together now for 7 years and as a part of the Leadership Team since inception, there are some key things we have learnt. Here are our highlights:
- Relationships are key
The relationships across the Leadership Team took time to build, based on honesty and authenticity. Getting to know each other and our own organisations beyond a superficial level was really important. We needed to understand our value base and how it was shared and needed to recognise the different communication preferences we all had. This took time – and as we all know – time is precious. Sometimes we really had to push ourselves to commit to the time we needed to build real relationships with each other. But the result has been a partnership that really is open, honest, encouraging, challenging, and energising. Alliance Leadership Team meetings are now a commitment in the diary that make us smile!
Reflecting back to the very beginning of our relationship, the Prevention Alliance was built after hours locked in a room together, working from dusk to dawn, as we conceived and birthed a new partnership, service and brand. One of our colleagues refers to it as being like a new marriage; we had the preparation period when we spent all our time together, making decisions, excited for the future, followed by the honeymoon period when the first contract was won and then we had a baby and it all changed. No more rose-tinted spectacles and the hard work and real issues started!
The strength of the relationships we’ve developed can make it interesting when roles change and the organisational representative on the Leadership Team needs to change. The depth of the relationships makes it a smooth transition for the new person picking up the baton but the person exiting can often feel a sense of loss that also needs sensitive acknowledgement and management.
Anyone in a strong relationship will know and understand the paramount importance of trust and this is absolutely no different in the Alliance relationship. We’ve worked hard to make sure we don’t have side conversations, we don’t get cliquey and we follow through on what we say we’ll do. Trust is earnt and we’ve worked hard to earn it with each other. We work equally hard to make sure we now don’t throw it away.
- The importance of the difficult conversations
One of the many benefits of strong relationships across our Alliance are that we can have the difficult conversations together. One of the things we have learnt is the importance of not shying away from that difficult conversation. The one that you really don’t want to have, the one that wakes you up at night, or the one that just nags away at you. We follow a principle of consensus decision making and we don’t vote on decisions. That means we need to keep talking until we reach a decision we are all happy with. It can feel so much easier to keep quiet in the background and not speak up when your individual opinion is different than the rest, but like anything, practice helps and we’ve all got better at it over time.
- Money is hard
Conversations about money definitely count as one of those conversation topics that can be difficult. We follow a principle of open-book accounting and that means that conversations about money happen frequently and robustly. Over the years, we’ve needed to change our approach to management charges and overhead costs, work through cash flow implications for smaller and larger organisations and had many a complicated conversation about TUPE liabilities and VAT. All topics that have the potential to strike dread into the heart of any leader. We’ve learnt that finance has its own language and definitions are different across charities and housing associations. We’ve learnt to speak the same language as each other, to ask the question that you think is the stupid one and to challenge each other so that we all understand the financial position. Our combined financial literacy has grown as a result, and we’ve learnt from each other individually and organisationally.
- This is generous collaboration
This is much more than just partnership in name only. Our Alliance model works by totally integrating our teams and line management structures. But even then, that could just create a functional Alliance rather than a rich and vibrant one. The vibrancy comes from a generous spirit from all Alliance partners. This means sometimes we bring our organisational resources to the table at no cost, sometimes it means we collaborate outside of this partnership leaning into the relationships we have built over time and sometimes it means we spot an ideal funding bid for our own organisations and take a back seat so that another Alliance partner can shine.
Our teams have been generous in their understanding and commitment too. Our fully blended workforce means that people chose to work for their own organisations in a very different way than they had previously. This brings so much value to our Alliance, through a skills and knowledge share across the different organisations but also to create a new identity which transcended individual organisations. Our teams will say that they work for the Stockport Prevention Alliance rather than their host organisation and that is exactly where we aimed to get to. This was a conscious and stated aim of ours but not one that came without an array of challenges in terms of managing staff who aren’t employed by the same organisation, are subject to different processes in terms of Induction / Probation / Performance Management and the way we navigate that, so managers feel they have the tools and support to do their jobs, but company values and processes aren’t compromised.
We’re so grateful to all our teams and colleagues for the trust they placed in us and the generous spirit they have shown throughout. Generous collaboration comes at a cost, in terms of time, resources and finance but it does truly mean that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.